Saturday, November 12, 2016

Open Letter to Trump Voters

I know who you are.

You are the Italian, male partner of my cousin who owns a small pizza shop in a dying factory town. You're ambitious but always complaining that you can't find good help. Sometimes, you note the race of your employees that don't work out, and I remain silent. I never questioned to your face that you might not be a very good boss, especially to people who don't look like you.

You are my white, male cousin who served six years in the Navy and had a young marriage turn to dust. By the time you found your second wife and fell in love, you were no longer motivated to explore the world or move out of your comfort zone for a job. You moved back to the county where you were raised and got a job at the paper where your dad worked.

When you were traveling the world with the Navy, you imagined more greatness for yourself. Now you work 9-5, struggle with health issues, and find comfort in the evangelical church. I truly don't know what to say to you. I don't understand why you would look the other way when faced with a hate-spewing monster, or worse, vote for him.

You are my aunt, the stay-at-home, Christian wife of my mother's brother whose interests and hobbies are limited to scrapbooking and other forms of nostalgia. Although you take a passing interest in my work with urban youth, I don't correct you when you frame our conversations about my work in terms of "us" and "them."

I never tell you, "If this is how you see the world, then I'm not on your team."

I wasn't always silent. In my early twenties, the end of college and early working life, I engaged each of you in conversations, some of which ended in tears. The tears were always mine. These were the Bush years and the first Obama election.

What will I do about Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? My black friends on Facebook are inditing me to engaged in a deeper way with my racist family members, to point out hate speech when it comes up, to speak up. Despite the fact that I have so much more knowledge now, I'm reluctant.

Facts and passion may not be enough to change the minds of my relatives, who have decided that we are living in a subjective world, that objective truth and objective justice do not exist.

I don't want to relive the tears of my young cousin's wedding, my aunt going on and on about the number of new Hispanic mothers she sees in her work, always on welfare, always having more children. Her cheerful judgement of their worthlessness. Then, I did speak up.

Her husband, my uncle, doubled down. "You don't know what we see," he said. "You might see something different where you live, but you can't see what it is like where we live. And we're paying for them."

I think that's when I left the room. It's not that I couldn't see; it's that I have different eyes.

The nurse is my godmother, the one who was supposed to be responsible for -- I don't fucking know what -- my spiritual understanding, my enlightened upbringing.

This week, a black woman I know was walking down the street and was trailed by three white Trump supporters. "You'll be under ownership again soon," they said, and laughed.

They laughed.

In South Philadelphia, there were at least two instances of pro-Nazi graffiti.

At the University of Pennsylvania, black freshmen and others were personally, directly threatened with lynching by an online troll who texted threats to their phones, possibly from the University of Oklahoma.

If you voted for Trump, here is what I need from you: denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. Do not wait. If you voted for him because you believe in the same God as Pence or because you're dissatisfied with your possibilities for the future, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. If you voted for him because something he said resonated with your lizard brain and you really believe he's going to be a positive change for America, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today.

And if you voted for him because of his sexist and racist rhetoric, dear God, don't you DARE call yourself a Christian.

In either case, read a book (something not by Sarah Palin, please). Make friends with someone who doesn't look like you. Get some new eyes. You've made a mess, and we're all going to have to clean it up.

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